Four boards sued over new law implementation, notification rule, chancellor applicants and more

Boards sued over H.B. 1557: Four Florida school boards that have adopted policies to implement the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law are being sued by parents, students and a nonprofit organization in an Orlando federal court. The law bars instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity to K-3 students, and such instruction for older students that is not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” according to state standards. The suit contends the law violates First Amendment, due process and equal protection rights, and asks the court to block the Orange, Palm Beach, Duval and Indian River districts from carrying out the law. News Service of Florida. NBC News.

Rule requires notification: The state’s new rule for implementing the Parental Rights in Education law requires parents to be notified by districts whether room assignments for overnight field trips “will be separated by (students’) biological sex at birth.” Field trip parental notification forms would be required with details about “the nature of the field trip, the dates and times, specific locations and types of establishments to be visited, modes of transportation and method of student supervision provided, such as anticipated number of chaperones.” The Florida Board of Education will hold a public hearing about the rule Aug. 17 at Pensacola State College. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Miami-Dade County School Board members will meet in a special session Thursday to discuss what’s next after they rejected the use of two sex-education textbooks last week, Lee school board members review a new equity guide for handling requests from transgender students, a state senator is among four candidates who have applied to be the next state university system chancellor, Orange County’s school board approves a contract for new Superintendent Maria Vazquez, a Clay County School Board member advocates disciplinary action against employees responsible for bringing what she considers pornographic and inappropriate books into school libraries, and several districts reporting they’re still short of teachers and school bus drivers. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School board members will meet Thursday in a special session to consider their next steps after voting 5-4 last week to not adopt two textbooks on human reproduction and disease education. School board staff and a hearing officer had recommended approving the books, and board members voted in April to use the textbooks but reversed that approval after hearing complaints from a group of parents. The decision left students with no sex ed curriculum. WFOR. A lawyer for Gov. Ron DeSantis has sent a cease-and-desist letter to a political action committee that used his photo in an ad without authorization. The ad was for school board member Marta Perez, who is running for the District 8 seat against the DeSantis-backed Monica Colluci. News Service of Florida.

Broward: A former gun dealer who sold an AR-15-style rifle to Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz testified Tuesday that Cruz told him he wanted it to go shooting with friends. Jurors also heard testimony from two medical examiners who described in gruesome detail the wounds that killed several of the victims. Testimony in the sentencing trial continues today, and could continue into October. Jurors will decide whether Cruz is sentenced to death or life in prison. Sun-Sentinel. WLRN. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. WPEC. Summarizing what happened Tuesday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. School district officials and teachers made a public appeal Tuesday to voters to renew a tax referendum that would double a special tax millage rate that funds school safety, pay raises and academic and extracurricular programs. Cuts will have to be made if the tax isn’t renewed, said Superintendent Vickie Cartwright. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ.

Orange: School board members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a contract for new Superintendent Maria Vazquez that will pay her $330,000 a year. Vazquez, a district deputy superintendent, replaces Barbara Jenkins, who is retiring in December after leading the district for the past 10 years. The board also tentatively approved a $5 billion budget, a contract agreement with support staff that raises minimum salaries to $15 an hour, and 6 percent raises for school-based administrators, administrative/technical personnel, executive management and food service managers. WKMG.

Palm Beach: The district is still short of school bus drivers, according to school officials. The budget calls for 614 drivers, but only 440 positions have been filled. Joseph Sanches, chief operating officer for the district, said they’ll use outside vendors and other school employees to drive buses, and that many of the drivers on staff will cover multiple routes. “So, with 440 (drivers) and 497 routes, we’re still short 57 drivers,” Sanches said. WPTV.

Duval: Vandals caused as much as $50,000 damage last weekend at the Fletcher High School Athletic Complex in Neptune Beach. They stole two lawnmowers, tore up the field by doing donuts and smashed the mowers into the scoreboard and fences. A wall in the equipment shed was also spray-painted and kicked in. Ed Malin, owner of a sandwich shop in Jacksonville Beach, has started a GoFundMe campaign to help replace the equipment and repair the damage. WTLV. WJAX,

Polk: Haines City High School is full and isn’t accepting any more students, the district told parents last week. District officials said options for families are to enroll in Ridge Community High, which is 6 miles away but has openings, or to request a transfer to another school through the open enrollment process. Haines City High has a projected enrollment of 2,925 students, which is about 100 students more than last year, while Ridge Community High has a capacity of 2,800 byt a projected enrollment of 2,263 students. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: School board members are considering committing $4.3 million to expand mental health services for students. More school counselors, psychologists and social workers would be hired, staff and students would receive more training on suicide and substance abuse prevention, and improvements would be made on identifying students with mental health issues. WFTS.

Lee: Changes in the district’s equity guide that bring it into compliance with federal and state laws were reviewed Tuesday by the school board. Transgender students who want accommodations such as being identified by their preferred pronouns will have to fill out a form with their parents. “Because of the current state laws … we are not requiring the student to out themselves on campus,” said Chuck Bradley, district director of positive prevention. “They can certainly be themselves on campus. It’s simply when they need accommodations for the school to respond to that identity by providing some type of accommodation on campus that we would get involved.” WFTX. WINK. WBBH.

Pasco: District officials said they are having a difficult time attracting teachers, with 400 jobs still open. The reason, they say, is that the average teacher salary of $46,649 is significantly lower than in six of the seven neighboring school districts in west central Florida. Their solution is to ask voters on Aug. 23 to approve a local-option property tax of $1 per $1,000 in taxable value, which they project would boost average teacher pay by $4,000. “The stakes are very high for our employees,” said Beth Brown, a retired educator leading a political action committee supporting the referendum. Tampa Bay Times.

Osceola: Even after a big turnout at a recent school district job fair, the district still needs at least 30 bus drivers and about 140 bus attendants, said transportation official Zach Downes. Another job fair will be held next month, and the district will consider using an outside company to cover routes until it can hire enough drivers. WESH.

Volusia: District 3 school board candidate Kim Short went on the offensive this week to deny allegations that she bullied an opponent to drop out of the race, once grabbed and yelled at an 11-year-old at a school, and lost her membership in a PTA because of “false accusations and cyber harassment and bullying” of other board members. She called the charges “nonsense,” and added, “They’re trying to take me down because, quite frankly, I’m kicking ass.” Short is running against Jessie Thompson and Justin Kennedy in the Aug. 23 primary to replace Linda Cuthbert, who chose not to run for re-election. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Marion: Incumbent school board chair Eric Cummings is being challenged for his District 3 seat by retired postmaster Steve Swett in the Aug. 23 primary. Cummings said, “I look at things from a different view. I put things in perspective and make sure that every voice is heard in our community. We’re heading in the right direction and we have the right pieces of the puzzle.” Swett said, “I believe the Marion County School Board performance of the past several years has been dismal due to the lack of planning, the lack of foresight, and the lack of communication.” Ocala Star-Banner.

Clay: School board member Ashley Gilhousen said she supports “disciplinary action” against district employees who are responsible for placing 75 books that she calls pornographic and inappropriate in public schools. “I’m disgusted that anybody would think that that’s appropriate material to have in a school library,” said Gilhousen, who has three boys in the school district. “There needs to be disciplinary action for anybody who offers this kind of material to a child.” Fox News.

Leon: Superintendent Rocky Hanna said the district is facing a “critical shortage” of school bus drivers. It has 97, but there are 115 daily routes. “We’re making our plea for people in the community to come out and drive a bus for Leon County Schools,” Hanna said. To attract recruits, pay has been raised to $18 an hour and the fingerprint fee has been waived. WCTV. Candidates for the District 4 seat on the school board agreed at a recent community forum that teachers need to stick to the state standards and that rainbow flags do not belong in classrooms. Parents’ rights backer Susan Hodges, Godby High School assistant principal Alex Stemle and retired Leon teacher Laurie Cox are competing to replace the departing DeeDee Rasmussen. WFSU.

Flagler: Lance Alred, president of Nomad LLC, is one of three candidates for the District 2 seat on the school board. In an interview, he answers questions about his qualifications, his priorities if elected, whether he supports the renewal of the extra half-cent sales tax, and more. His opponents are Will Furry and Courtney VandeBunte. The primary election is Aug. 23. Flagler Live.

Monroe: A tentative budget of $293 million has gotten the approval of the school board. That represents an increase of about $20.4 million. Board members said they would like to see more placed into reserves, and Beverly Anders, director of finance and performance, said she would rework the numbers in time before the board takes a final vote and notices are sent to residents Aug. 24. Florida Keys Weekly.

Jackson: The school district has cut the number of teaching openings from 26 to 11 in the past three weeks. Superintendent Steve Benton credits a change in district policy that allows retired teachers to return to work and receive the salary they were making when they left. Previously, they were eligible to be paid for only 10 years of experience. “It’s been good for retired teachers to want to come back now because now they can come back on their full salary, draw their retirement check and it just helps them financially,” Benton said. “And it helps the school district with our number of teachers.” WMBB.

Washington: School board members recently approved a plan to spend about $500,000 to buy laptops for students and teachers. The district will use funds from an extra half-cent sales tax to pay for the devices, which Superintendent Joseph Taylor hopes will bridge the digital divide. The tax has generated $4 million for the district since being approved in 2018. WFSU.

Liberty: In the past 20 years, the number of private school students in Florida’s 30 rural counties has doubled, from 5,354 to 10,965, according to state data. And the number of private schools has grown from 69 to 120. Even in Liberty County, the smallest county in the state with just 8,333 people, school choice has taken root with the opening four years ago of the Gold Star Private Academy for children with special needs. “If you can do this in Bristol,” said a Gold Star parent, Marlene McAllister, “you can do this anywhere.” reimaginED.

Colleges and universities: Four candidates have applied so far to replace Marshall Criser as chancellor for the state university system. One is state Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, who applied the first day the job was posted. The Florida Gulf Coast University administrator is an ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis and has been linked to the job since his resignation from the Senate in June. A search committee appointed by the Board of Governors is expected to meet Aug. 17 to consider the candidates. Politico Florida. University of South Florida officials announced Tuesday that the school raised more than $150 million during the 2021-2022 school year, the highest one-year total in the school’s 70-year history. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics.

School meal changes: The state and federal governments have released revised guidelines on household size and income for Florida students to be eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. Students who live in households that are not in school zones approved to give free meals to all students must fill out an application. Spectrum News 13. WJXT. WEAR.

Opinions on schools: Speaking as a veteran: My time in the infantry (10 years) informed my teaching every single day, but it did not make me a teacher. Dave Galloway, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff